- زمان مطالعه 39 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
Jurian was right.
We’d seen inside his head, yet we’d still doubted. Still wondered if we’d arrive to find Hybern had changed their position, or attacked elsewhere.
But Hybern’s horde was precisely where Jurian claimed they’d be.
And as the Illyrian army swept for them while they marched over the Spring border and into Summer … Hybern’s forces certainly seemed shocked.
Rhys had cloaked our forces—all of them. Sweat had slid down his temple at the strain, at keeping the mass of us hidden from sight and sound and scent as we flew mile after mile. My wings weren’t strong enough—so Mor winnowed us through the sky, keeping pace with them.
But we arrived together. And as Rhys ripped the sight shield away, revealing battle-hungry Illyrians spearing from the skies in neat, precise lines … As he revealed the legion of Keir’s Darkbringers charging on foot, swathed in wisps of night and armed with star-bright steel … It was hard not to be smug at the panic that rippled over the marching mass of Hybern.
But Hybern’s army … It stretched far—deep and long. Meant to sweep away everything in its path.
“SHIELDS,” Cassian bellowed at the front line.
One by one by one, shields of red and blue and green flickered into life around the Illyrians and their weapons, overlapping like the scales of a fish. Overlapping like the solid metal shields they each bore on their left arms, locking into place from ankle to shoulder.
Below, Keir’s troops rippled with shadowy shields flaring into place before them.
Mor winnowed us to the tree-covered hill that overlooked the field Cassian had deemed would be the best place to hit them based on Azriel’s scouting. There was a slope to the grass—in our advantage. We held the high ground; a narrow, shallow river lay not too far back from Hybern’s army. Success in battle, Cassian had told me that morning over a swift breakfast, was often decided not by numbers, but by picking where to fight.
The Hybern army seemed to realize their disadvantage within moments.
But the Illyrians had landed beside Keir’s soldiers. Cassian, Azriel, and Rhys spread out amongst the front line, all clad in that black Illyrian armor, all armed as the other winged soldiers were: shield gripped in the left hand, Illyrian blade in the right, an assortment of daggers on them, and helmets.
The helmets were the only markers of who they were. Unlike the smooth domes of the others, Rhys, Azriel, and Cassian wore black helmets whose cheek-guards had been fashioned and swept upward like ravens’ wings. Albeit razor-sharp ravens’ wings that jutted up on either side of the helmet, right above the ear, but … The effect, I admitted, was terrifying. Especially with the two other swords strapped across their backs, the gauntlets that covered every inch of their hands, and the Siphons gleaming amongst Cassian’s and Azriel’s ebony armor.
Rhys’s own power roiled around him, readying to hammer the right flank while Cassian aimed for the left. Rhys was to conserve his power—in case the king arrived. Or worse—the Cauldron.
This army, however huge … It did not seem that the king was even there to lead it. Or Tamlin. Or Jurian. Merely an invading harbinger of the force to come, but sizable enough that the damage … We could easily spy the damage behind the army, the plumes of smoke staining the cloudless summer sky.
Mor and I said little in the hours that followed.
I did not have it in me for words, for any sort of coherent speech as we watched. Either through our surprise or pure luck, there was no sign of that faebane. I was inclined to thank the Mother for that.
Even if every soldier in our camp this morning had mixed Nuan’s antidote into their gruel, it would do nothing against blocking weapons tipped in faebane from shattering shields. Only stop against the stifling of magic, should it come into contact either through that damned powder … or by being impaled by a weapon tipped in it. Lucky—so lucky it was not in use today.
Because seeing the carnage, the fine line of control … There was no place for me on those front lines, where the Illyrians fought by the strength of their sword, their power, and their trust in the male on either side of them. Even Keir’s soldiers fought as one—obedient and unfaltering, lashing out with shadows and steel. I would have been a fissure in that impenetrable armor—and what Cassian and the Illyrians unleashed upon Hybern …
Cassian slammed into that left flank. Siphons unleashed bursts of power that sometimes bounced off shields, sometimes found their mark and shredded flesh and bone.
But where Hybern’s magic shields held out … Rhys, Azriel, and Cassian sent out blasts of their own power to shatter them. Leaving them vulnerable to those Siphons—or pure Illyrian steel. And if that did not fell them … Keir and his Darkbringers cleaned up the rest. Precisely. Coolly.
The field became a blood-drenched mud pit. Bodies gleamed in the morning sun, light bouncing off their armor. Hybern panicked at the unbreakable Illyrian lines that pushed and pushed them back. That battered them.
And as that left flank broke apart, as its nobles fell or turned and fled … The other Hybern soldiers began descending into panic, too.
There was one mounted commander who did not go easily. Who didn’t turn his horse toward that river behind them to flee.
Cassian selected him as his opponent.
Mor gripped my hand tight enough to hurt as Cassian stepped out of that impenetrable front line of shields and swords, the soldiers around him immediately closing the gap. Mud and blood splattered Cassian’s dark helmet, his armor.
He ditched his tall shield for a round one strapped across his back, crafted from the same ebony metal.
And then he launched into a run.
I could have sworn even Rhys paused on the other end of the battlefield to watch as Cassian cut his way through those enemy soldiers, aiming for the mounted Hybern commander. Who realized what and who was coming for him and started to search for a better weapon.
Cassian had been born for this—these fields, this chaos and brutality and calculation.
He didn’t stop moving, seemed to know where every opponent fought both ahead and behind, seemed to breathe in the flow of the battle around him. He even let his Siphons’ shield drop—to get close, to feel the impact of the arrows that he took in that ebony shield. If he slammed that shield into a soldier, his other arm was already swinging his sword at the next opponent.
I’d never seen anything like it—the skill and precision. It was like a dance.
I must have said it aloud because Mor replied, “For him, that’s what battle is. A symphony.”
Her eyes did not stray from Cassian’s death-dance.
Three soldiers were brave or stupid enough to try to charge him. Cassian had them down and dying with four maneuvers.
“Holy Mother,” I breathed.
That was who had been training me. Why Fae trembled at his name.
Why the high-born Illyrian warriors had been jealous enough to want him dead.
But there Cassian was, no one between him and the commander.
The commander had found a discarded spear. He threw it.
Fast and sure, I skipped a heartbeat as it spiraled for Cassian.
His knees bent, wings tucked in tight, shield twisting—
He took the spear in the shield with an impact I could have sworn I heard, then sliced off the shaft and kept running.
Within a heartbeat, Cassian had sheathed both shield and sword across his back.
And I would have asked why but he’d already picked up another fallen spear.
Already hurled it, his entire body going into the throw, the movement so perfect that I knew I’d one day paint it.
Both armies seemed to stop at the throw.
Even with the distance, Cassian’s spear hit home.
It went right through the commander’s chest, so hard it knocked the male clean off his horse.
By the time he was done falling, Cassian was there.
His sword caught the sunlight as it lifted and plunged down.
Cassian had picked his mark well. Hybern fled now. Outright turned and fled for the river.
But Hybern found Tarquin’s army waiting on its opposite bank, exactly where Cassian had ordered it to appear.
Trapped with the Illyrians and Keir’s Darkbringers at their backs and Tarquin’s two thousand soldiers on the other side of the narrow river …
It was harder to watch—that slaughter.
Mor said to me, “It’s over.”
The sun was high in the sky, heat rising with every minute.
“You don’t need to see this,” she added.
Because some of the Hybern soldiers were surrendering. On their knees.
As it was Tarquin’s territory, Rhys yielded the decision about what to do with prisoners.
From the distance, I picked out Tarquin from his armor—more ornate than Rhysand’s, but still brutal. Fish fins and scales seemed to be the motif, and his azure cloak flowed through the mud behind him as he stepped over fallen bodies to get to the few hundred surviving enemy.
Tarquin stared at where the enemy had knelt, his helmet masking his features.
Nearby, Rhys, Cassian, and Azriel monitored, speaking to Keir and the Illyrian captains. I did not see many wings amongst the fallen on the field. A mercy.
The only mercy, it seemed, as Tarquin made a motion with his hand.
Some of the Hybern soldiers began screaming for clemency, their offers to sell information ringing out, even to us.
Tarquin pointed at a few of them, and they were hauled away by his soldiers. To be questioned. And I doubted it would be pleasant.
But the others …
Tarquin stretched out his hand toward them.
It took me a heartbeat to realize why the Hybern soldiers were thrashing and clawing at themselves, some trying to crawl away. But then one of them collapsed, and sunlight caught on his face. And even with the distance, I could tell—could tell it was water now bubbling out of his lips.
Out the lips of all the Hybern soldiers as Tarquin drowned them on dry land.
I didn’t see Rhys or the others for hours—not when he gave the order that the Illyrian war-camp was to be moved from the border of the Winter Court and rebuilt at the edge of the battlefield. So Mor and I winnowed to and from the camps as the exodus began. We brought my sisters last, waiting until many of the bodies had been turned to black dust by Rhysand. The blood and mud remained, but the camp maintained too good a position to yield—or waste time finding another one.
Elain didn’t seem to care. Didn’t seem to even notice that we winnowed her. She just went from her tent to Mor’s arms, then into the same tent rebuilt in the new camp.
Nesta, however … I told her upon arriving that everyone was fine. But when we winnowed to the battlefield … She stared at that bloody, muddy plain. At the weapons soldiers of both courts were plundering from the fallen enemy.
Nesta listened to the low-level Illyrian soldiers whispering about how Cassian had thrown that spear, how he’d cut down soldiers like stalks of wheat, how he’d fought like Enalius—their most ancient warrior-god and the first of the Illyrians.
It had been a while, it seemed, since they had seen Cassian in open battle. Since they’d realized that he’d been young in the War, and now … the looks they gave Cassian as he passed … they were the same as those the High Lords had given Rhys upon seeing his power. Like them, and yet Other.
Nesta watched, and listened to it all, while the camp was built around us.
She did not ask where the bodies had gone before her arrival. She wholly ignored the camp Keir and his Darkbringers built beside ours—the ebony-armored soldiers who sneered at her, at me, at the Illyrians. No, Nesta only made sure that Elain was dozing in her tent, and then offered to help cut up linen for bandages.
We were doing just that around the early-evening fire when Rhys and Cassian approached, still in their armor, Azriel nowhere to be found.
Rhys took a seat on the log I was perched atop of, armor thudding, and silently pressed a kiss to my temple. He reeked of metal and blood and sweat.
His helmet clunked on the ground at our feet. I silently handed him a pitcher of water, and made to grab a glass when Rhys just lifted the pewter container and drank right from it. It sloshed over the sides, water pinging against the black metal coating his thighs, and when he at last set it down, he looked … tired. In his eyes, Rhys seemed weary.
But Nesta had jolted to her feet, staring at Cassian, at the helmet he had tucked into the crook of his arm, the weapons still poking above his shoulder, in need of cleaning. His dark hair hung limp with sweat, his face was mud-splattered where even the helmet had not kept it out.
But she surveyed his seven Siphons, the dim red stones. And then she said, “You’re hurt.”
Rhys snapped to attention at that.
Cassian’s face was grim—his eyes glassy. “It’s fine.” Even the words were laced with exhaustion.
But she reached for his arm—his shield arm.
Cassian seemed to hesitate, but offered it to her, tapping the Siphon atop his palm. The armor slid back a fraction over his forearm, revealing—
“You know better than to walk around with an injury,” Rhys said a bit tensely.
“I was busy,” Cassian said, not taking his focus off Nesta as she studied the swollen wrist. How she’d detected it through the armor … She must have read it in his eyes, his stance.
I hadn’t realized she’d been observing the Illyrian general enough to notice his tells.
“And it’ll be fixed by morning,” Cassian added, daring Rhys to say otherwise.
But Nesta’s pale fingers gently probed his golden-brown skin, and he hissed through his teeth.
“How do I fix it?” she asked. Her hair had been tied in a loose knot atop her head earlier in the day, and in the hours that we’d worked to ready and distribute supplies to the healers, through the heat and humidity, stray tendrils had come free to curl about her temple, her nape. Faint color had stained her cheeks from the sun, and her forearms, bare beneath the sleeves she’d rolled up, were flecked with mud.
Cassian slowly sat on the log where she’d been perched a moment before, groaning softly—as if even that movement taxed him. “Icing it usually helps, but wrapping it will just lock it in place long enough for the sprain to repair itself—”
She reached for the basket of bandages she’d been preparing, then for the pitcher at her feet.
I was too tired to do anything other than watch as she washed his wrist, his hand, her own fingers gentle. Too tired to ask if she possessed the magic to heal it herself. Cassian seemed too weary to speak as well while she wrapped bandages around his wrist, only grunting to confirm if it was too tight or too loose, if it helped at all. But he watched her—didn’t take his eyes off her face, the brows bunched and lips pursed in concentration.
And when she’d tied it neatly, his wrist wrapped in white, when Nesta made to pull back, Cassian gripped her fingers in his good hand. She lifted her gaze to his. “Thank you,” he said hoarsely.
Nesta did not yank her hand away.
Did not open her mouth for some barbed retort.
She only stared and stared at him, at the breadth of his shoulders, even more powerful in that beautiful black armor, at the strong column of his tan neck above it, his wings. And then at his hazel eyes, still riveted to her face.
Cassian brushed a thumb down the back of her hand.
Nesta opened her mouth at last, and I braced myself—
At the sound of Mor’s voice, Cassian snatched his hand back and pivoted toward Mor with a lazy smile. “Nothing for you to cry over, don’t worry.”
Nesta dragged her stare from his face—down to her now-empty hand, her fingers still curled as if his palm lay there. Cassian didn’t look at Nesta as she rose, snatching up the pitcher, and muttered something about getting more water from inside the tent.
Cassian and Mor fell into their banter, laughing and taunting each other about the battle and the ones ahead.
Nesta didn’t come back out again for some time.
I helped with the wounded long into the night, Mor and Nesta working alongside me.
A long day for all of us, yes, but the others … They had fought for hours. From the tight angle of Mor’s jaw as she tended to injured Darkbringers and Illyrians alike, I knew the various recountings of the battle wore on her—not for the tales of glory and gore, but for the sole fact that she had not been there to fight beside them.
But between the Darkbringer forces and the Illyrians … I wondered where she’d fight. Whom she’d command or answer to. Definitely not Keir, but … I was still chewing it over when I at last slipped between the warm sheets of my bed and curled my body into Rhys’s.
His arm instantly slid over my waist, tugging me in closer. “You smell like blood,” he murmured into the dimness.
“Sorry,” I said. I’d washed my hands and forearms before sliding into bed, but a full bath … I had barely managed the walk through the camp moments ago.
He stroked a hand over my waist, down to my hip. “You must be exhausted.”
“And you should be sleeping,” I chided, shifting closer, letting his warmth and scent wrap around me.
“Can’t,” he admitted, his lips brushing over my temple.
His hand drifted to my back, and I arched into the long, trailing strokes along my spine. “It takes a while—to settle myself after battle.” It had been hours and hours since the fighting had ceased. Rhys’s lips began a journey from my temple down my jaw.
And even with the weight of exhaustion pressing on me, as his mouth grazed over my chin, as he nipped at my bottom lip … I knew what he was asking.
Rhys sucked in a breath as I traced the contours of his muscled stomach, as I marveled at the softness of his skin, the strength of the body beneath it.
He pressed a featherlight kiss to my lips. “If you’re too tired,” he began, even as he went wholly still while my fingers continued their journey, past the sculpted muscles of his abdomen.
I answered him with a kiss of my own. Another. Until his tongue slid over the seam of my lips and I opened for him.
Our joining was fast, and hard, and I was clawing at his back before the end shattered through both of us, dragging my hands over his wings.
For long minutes afterward, we remained there, my legs thrown over his shoulders, the rise and fall of his chest pushing into mine in a lingering echo of our bodies’ movements.
Then he withdrew, gently lowering my legs from his shoulders. He kissed the inside of each of my knees as he did so, setting them on either side of him as he rose up to kneel before me.
The tattoos on his knees were nearly obscured by the rumpled sheets, the design stretched with the position. But I traced my fingers over the tops of those mountains, the three stars inked atop them, as he remained kneeling between my legs, gazing down at me.
“I thought about you every moment I was on that battlefield,” he said softly. “It focused me, centered me—let me get through it.”
I stroked those tattoos on his knees again. “I’m glad. I think … I think some part of me was down there on that battlefield with you, too.” I glanced to his suit of armor, cleaned and displayed on a dummy near the small dressing area. His winged helmet shone like a dark star in the dimness. “Seeing that battle today … It felt different from the one in Adriata.” Rhys only listened, those star-flecked eyes patient. “In Adriata, I didn’t …” I struggled for the words. “The chaos of the battle in Adriata was easier, somehow. Not easy, I mean—”
“I know what you meant.”
I sighed, sitting up so that we were knee-to-knee and face-to-face. “What I’m trying and failing miserably to explain is that attacks like the one in Adriata, in Velaris … I can fight in those. There are people to defend, and the disorder of it … I can—I’ll gladly fight in those battles. But what I saw today, that sort of warfare …” I swallowed. “Will you be ashamed of me if I admit that I’m not sure if I’m ready for that sort of battling?” Line against line, swinging and stabbing until I didn’t know up from down, until mud and gore blurred the line between enemy and foe, relying as much upon the warriors beside me as my own skill set. And the closeness of it, the sounds and sheer scale of the bloodbath …
He took my face in his hands, kissing me once. “Never. I can never be ashamed of you. Certainly not over this.” He kept his mouth close to mine, sharing breath. “Today’s battle was different from Adriata, and Velaris. If we had more time to train you with a unit, you could easily fight amongst the lines and hold your own. But only if you wanted to. And for now, these initial battles … Being down in that slaughterhouse is not something I’d wish upon you.” He kissed me again. “We are a pair,” he said against my lips. “If you ever wish to fight by my side, it will be my honor.”
I pulled my head back, frowning at him. “I feel like a coward now.”
He stroked a thumb over my cheek. “No one would ever think that of you—not with all you have done, Feyre.” A pause. “War is ugly, and messy, and unforgiving. The soldiers doing the fighting are only a fraction of it. Don’t underestimate how far it goes for them to see you here—to see you tending to the wounded and participating in these meetings and councils.”
I considered, letting my fingers drift across the Illyrian tattoos over his chest and shoulders.
And perhaps it was the afterglow of our joining, perhaps it was the battle today, but … I believed him.
Tarquin’s army didn’t blend into ours as Keir’s did, but rather camped beside it. Azriel led team after team of scouts to find the rest of Hybern’s host, discover their next movement … But nothing.
I wondered if Tamlin was with them—if he’d whispered to Hybern everything that had been discussed in that meeting. The weaknesses between courts. I didn’t dare ask anyone.
But I did dare to question Nesta about whether she felt the Cauldron’s power stirring. Mercifully, she reported feeling nothing amiss. Even so … I knew Rhys was frequently checking with Amren in Velaris—asking if she had made any discoveries with the Book.
And even if she found some alternative way to stop that Cauldron … We needed to know where the king was hiding the rest of his army first. And not so we could face it—not alone. No, so we could bring others to finish the job.
But only once we knew where the rest of Hybern’s army was—where I was to unleash Bryaxis. It would do no good to have Hybern learn of Bryaxis’s existence and adjust its plans. No, only when that full army was upon us … Only then would I set it upon them.
The first three days after the battle, the armies healed their wounded and rested. By the fourth, Cassian ordered them to do menial tasks to stave off any restlessness and chances for dangerous grumbling. His first order: dig a trench around the entire camp.
But the fifth day, the trench halfway finished … Azriel appeared, panting, in the middle of our war-tent.
Hybern had somehow skirted us entirely, and sent a force marching up the seam between the Autumn and Summer Courts. Heading for the Winter Court border.
We couldn’t glean a reason why. Azriel hadn’t discovered one, either. They were half a day’s flight from us. He’d already sent warnings to Kallias and Viviane.
Rhys, Tarquin, and the others debated for hours, weighing the possibilities. Abandon this spot by the border, and we could be playing into Hybern’s plans. But leave that northward army unattended and it could keep going north as far as it pleased. We could not afford to split our own army in two—there weren’t enough soldiers to spare.
Until Varian came up with an idea.
He dismissed all the captains and generals, Keir and Devlon looking none too pleased at the order as they stormed out, dismissed everyone but his sister, Tarquin, and my own family.
“We march north—and we stay.”
Rhys lifted a brow. Cassian frowned.
But Varian jabbed a finger on the map spread on the table we’d gathered around. “Spin a glamour—a good one. So that if anyone walks by here, they see and hear and smell an army. Put whatever spells in place to repel them from actually coming up to it. But let Hybern’s eyes report that we are still here. That we choose to stay here.”
“While we march north under a sight shield,” Cassian murmured, rubbing his jaw. “It could work.” He added with a grin to Varian, “You ever get sick of all that sunshine, you can come play with us in Velaris.”
Though Varian frowned, something glinted in his eye.
But Tarquin said to Rhys, “You could make such a deception?”
Rhys nodded and winked at me. “With assistance from my mate.”
I prayed that I’d rested enough as they all looked to me.
I was nearly drained by the time Rhys and I were finished that night. I followed his instructions, marking faces and details, willing that shape-shifting magic to craft them out of thin air, to give them life of their own.
It was like … applying a thin film over all those living in the camp, that would then separate when we moved out—separate and grow into its own entity that walked and talked and did all manner of things here. While we marched to intercept Hybern’s army, hidden from sight by Rhys.
But it worked. Cresseida, skilled with glamours herself, worked personally on the Summer Court soldiers. She and I were both panting and sweaty hours later, and I nodded my thanks as she handed me a skein of water. She was not a trained warrior like her brother, but she was a solid, needed presence amongst the army—the soldiers looked to her for guidance and stability.
We moved out again, a far larger beast than the one that had flown down here. The Summer Court soldiers and Keir’s legion could not fly, but Tarquin dug deep into his reservoirs and winnowed them along with us. He’d be wholly empty by the time we reached the enemy, but he insisted he was better at fighting with steel anyway.
We found the Hybern army at the northern edge of the mighty forest that stretched along the Summer Court’s eastern border.
Azriel had scouted the land ahead for Cassian, laid it out in precise detail. It was late enough in the afternoon that Hybern was readying to settle down for the night.
Cassian had let our army rest all day, anticipating that. Knowing that at the end of a long day of marching, Hybern’s forces would be exhausted, muddled. Another rule of war, he told me. Knowing when to pick your battles could be equally as important as where you fought them.
With rain-heavy clouds sweeping in from the east and the sun sinking toward the trees behind us—sycamores and oaks that towered high—we landed. Rhys ripped off the glamour surrounding us.
He wanted word to get out—wanted word to spread amongst Hybern’s forces who was meeting them at every turn. Slaughtering them.
But they already knew.
Again, I watched from the camp itself, atop a broad rim leading into the grassy little valley where Hybern had planned to rest. Elain ducked into her tent the moment the Illyrian warriors built it for her. Only Nesta strode toward the edge of the tents to watch the battle on the valley floor below. Mor joined her, then me.
Nesta did not flinch at the clash and din of battle. She only stared toward one black-armored figure, leading the lines, his occasional order to push or to hold that flank barking across the battle.
Because this battle … Hybern had been ready. And the appearance they’d given, of a tired army ready to rest for the night … It had been a ruse, as our own had been.
Keir’s soldiers started going down first, shadows sputtering out. Their front lines buckling.
Mor watched it, stone-faced. I had no doubt she was half hoping her father joined the dead now piling up. Even as Keir managed to rally the Darkbringers, reassembled that front line—only after Cassian had roared at him to fix it. And on the other side of the field …
Rhys and Tarquin were drained enough that they were actually battling sword to sword against soldiers. And again, no sign of the king or Jurian or Tamlin.
Mor was hopping from one foot to another, glancing at me every now and then. The bloodshed, the brutality—it sang to some part of her. Being up here with me … It was not where she wished to be.
But this … this running after armies, scrambling to stay ahead …
It would not provide a solution. Not for long.
The skies opened up, and the battle turned into outright muddy slaughter. Siphons flared, soldiers died. Hybern wielded its own magic upon our forces, arrows tipped in faebane finally making an appearance, along with clouds of it, that mercifully didn’t last long in the rain. And did not impact us—not one bit—with Nuan’s antidote in our systems. Only those arrows, which were skillfully avoided with shields or outright destruction to their shafts, leaving the stone to fall harmlessly from the sky.
Still Cassian, Azriel, and Rhys kept fighting, kept killing. Tarquin and Varian held their own—spreading out their soldiers to aid Keir’s once-again foundering line.
From the distance, through the rain, we could see perfectly as the dark line of Keir’s soldiers caved to an onslaught of Hybern cavalry.
“Shit,” Mor breathed, gripping my arm tight enough to bruise, warm summer rain soaking our clothes, our hair. “Shit.”
Like a burst dam, Hybern’s soldiers poured through, cleaving Keir’s force in half. Cassian’s bellowing was audible even from the hilltop—then he was soaring, dodging arrows and spears, his Siphons so dim they barely guarded him against it. I could have sworn Rhys roared some order to him—that Cassian disregarded as he landed in the middle, the middle of those enemy forces sundering our lines, and unleashed himself.
Nesta inhaled in a sharp, high gasp.
More and more—Hybern spread us farther and farther apart. Rhys’s power slammed into the flank of them, trying to shove them back. But his power was drained, exhausted from last night. Dozens fell to those snapping shadows, rather than hundreds.
“Re-form the lines,” Mor was muttering, releasing me to pace, rain sluicing down her face. “Re-form the damned lines!”
Cassian was trying. Azriel had lunged into the fray, nothing more than shadows edged in blue light, battling his way toward where Cassian fought, utterly surrounded.
“Mother above,” Nesta said softly. Not in awe. No—no, that was dread in her voice.
And within my own as I said, “They can fix this.” Or I prayed they could.
Even if this battle … this was not all that Hybern had to offer against us.
This was not all they had to offer, and yet we were being pushed back, back, back—
Red flared in the heart of that battle like an exploding ember. A circle of soldiers died.
But more of Hybern’s soldiers pushed in around Cassian. Even Azriel could not get to his side. My stomach turned, over and over.
Hybern had hidden the majority of its force somewhere. Our scouts could not find it. Azriel could not find it. And Elain … She could not see that mighty army, she’d said. In her dreams awake and asleep.
I knew little of war, of battle. But this … it felt like patching up holes in a boat while it sank.
As the rain drenched us, as Mor paced and swore at the slaughter, the bodies starting to pile up on our side, the foundering lines … I realized what I had to do, if I could not be down there, fighting.
Who I had to hunt down—and ask about the location of Hybern’s true army.
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